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The Great Wildlife Migration

Nov 21, 2007
All the twists, tragedies and drama of the Great Wildebeest, Zebra and Gazelle migration take place in the pristine 1510 sq km expanse that is the Maasai Mara in Kenya. Tragedy because some of the hundreds of thousands of herbivores migrating inevitably fall prey to a number of predators that ambush and track them as they trek and gallop on the scenic landscape of the Mara. The Maasai Mara and adjacent Loita Plains make up the northern most portion of the extensive 25,000km Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. Rainfall in the Maasai Mara falls almost all year round and consequently the Mara receives the highest rainfall in the entire Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. Rainfall peaks usually in December, January and April and so lush grasses remain after the Serengeti plains down South have dried up.

The Masai Mara is located about 270 km from Nairobi and takes about 5 hours to reach by road. For a 45 minute foray to the Mara, flights can be taken twice daily from Wilson Airport Nairobi.

The large eco-system sustains, among other animals, a wildebeest population of at least 600,000, more than 200,000 zebra and at least 350,000 Thomson gazelle. These three species of herbivores form the large grouping that makes annual movements through the ecosystem from the Serengeti plains in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya in search of fresh grass. This spectacular movement is what is referred to as "The Migration." The spectacle of hundreds of thousands of these animals moving together through the sea of grass must rank as the greatest wildlife display on earth.

Wildebeest herds usually assemble in the grass plains of Serengeti during the wettest season of the year when there is sweet new grass and small pools of water formed by the rain. There most of the females give birth and calve , all within a few weeks, in what has come to be known world over as "The Rut". As nature would have it, the grass and rainwater pools dry up early in the dry season and the wildebeest move en bloc through the savannah and towards the Western frontier. Within the enormity of the Serengeti, the wildebeest lift their goateed heads, sniff the air around and, as if by one accord, begin the long but rewarding trek towards the Kenyan border. As the pastures diminish, the herds shift into the northern Serengeti woodlands and then pour into the Maasai Mara.

Zebras follow a slightly related, but not quite similar movement. Thomson's gazelle also migrate, but only as far as the edge of the woodlands. The routes taken by the herds vary from year to year but the general pattern of the migration remains the same. On reaching the woodlands, the herds spread out but continue moving in response to rainfall and the availability of foliage. The first of the wildebeest usually turn up in the Mara in June or July and most stay therein until late October or early November. The herds attract ravenous pack of predators, particularly hyenas and lions, and thousands of the lame, slack and sick never finish the pilgrimage. Some breathe their last by drowning or by the powerful jaws of the crocodiles that lay about calmly but burst into action once the animals plunge into the chocolate Mara and Talek Rivers, a barrier that they must cross to get to the pasture.

Once the Mara's grass has been devoured and rains in Tanzania's Serengeti have brought forth juicy tufts of grass, the wildebeest leave the Mara following various routes, slowly at first then with increased momentum. The cycle repeats itself from start every other year.

The 'resident' Wildebeest found in the Loita plains adjoining the Mara, make seasonal movements between the Loita plains in the wet season and the Mara in the dry months.

The Maasai Mara is the dry season refuge for close to 1,000,000 animals.

Being on safari and driving in the wilderness in the midst of these great herds is an unimaginable experience. A once in a lifetime experience.

In July, August and September, the Mara grasslands are teeming with migrating Wildebeest and Zebra but there is much resident wildlife in the Maasai Mara all year round. Elephants, Cheetahs, Impala, the nocturnal Bat-Eared Fox, the Roan Antelope, Thomson's and Grant's gazelle, Topi, Zebra, Giraffes, Coke's Hartebeest, Hyena, Cheetah, Lions, Leopards, Rhino, Buffalo, Wild dog, Jackal, Hippo, Kongoni, Eland, Monkeys and Ostrich can be viewed all year round in the Mara. Over 450 species of birds including 50 species of birds of prey have been recorded in the Mara. They include Vulture, Widow bird, Secretary bird, Crowned Crane, Red-billed Ox Pecker, Ostrich, long-crested Eagle, Pygmy falcon, Scale francolin, hornbill, African goshawk, Fiscal hike, Yellow-throated long claw, Marabou, White-backed vulture, and Prowl plovers.

This combination of a mild climate, picturesque magnificence and untold numbers of wildlife makes the Masai Mara in Kenya's a most popular inland destination.
About the Author
Becky Jean is editor of Vacations East Africa. You can find more information about Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya safaris, as well as hotels and lodge bookings, on the website.
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